Monday, December 07, 2009

Jack Rose 1971 - 2009
(photo courtesy of Keith Wood)

Jack Rose is gone. What an abysmal weekend. I don't really want to write this, but I have to. It's very hard to put into words what this guy means to me and tons of folks. He and I weren't that close, yet anytime I was able to just sit down somewhere and shoot the shit with Jack Rose I felt like part of his inner circle. He was a larger than life, robust, big bear of a man. He died two days ago of a heart attack at only 38. Lots of fine folks out there are offering up their own tributes and remembrances, so I'll try to keep mine short (yeah right!).

The first time I actually met Jack Rose was at Terrastock 6 in Providence, RI in 2006 (though I'd seen him in concert with Pelt twice before that). After the first night's festivities, Jack, Larkin Grimm and I walked down to a nearby Irish pub (complete with thumping disco background music), and he bought ME a beer of all things, after only just meeting me. I think I'd given him my spiel about how important Pelt's and his music had been to my old friend Mats (editor/publisher of The Broken Face) and I over the years, how Empty Bell Ringing in the Sky did as much as any other album in terms of turning us onto a different way of listening to music and exploring sound. Meditation as music, basically, or music as meditation, and forgetting where one ended and the other began. He could tell I meant every word, and I knew he was a friend from that moment on.

Later that night we ended up in a basement below the taqueria that connects to AS220, one of the venues where Terrastock was held that year. A lot of amazing musicians and some close friends were there: Jeffrey Alexander, Miriam Goldberg, Tara Burke, Larkin and Jack, Alan Davidson, Nari Mann, Travis Johnson and someone else I'm forgetting. Sharron Kraus? We drank beer and talked blues and guitars, about folks we knew, and I remember Larkin and Jack having a kind of pseudo-debate about feminism and folk music as the beer flowed and the smoke wafted upwards. A discussion of old primitive blues sparked up, and the name Skip James came up, a guy I'd just started to really get into. And Jack declared one of his classic aphoristic summations of James and his musical oeuvre, a sentence I'll never forget:

"Skip James is Whitehouse!"

And somehow I knew exactly what he meant. Guess you just have to listen to a li'l Whitehouse, and then listen to a li'l Skip James, to fully get that analogy. Made perfect sense to me, then and now. A little later that night, I remember Jack looking at me dead on: "You're not gonna write about any of this shit in your your blog are you?" 'Hell no," I said, and I meant it. Well, meant it at the time.

About a week later back in Dallas, I passed on an opportunity to see Mogwai live, completely unaware who the opening act was. My friend, Mike Maxwell, called me from the show and left a message asking, "Where are you? Jack Rose is playing, and he put you on the guestlist! Why aren't you here?" For whatever reason I couldn't make it, but I remembered being fairly impressed that this guy I'd only just met remembered my name, remembered where I lived, and put me on the guestlist, simply to be cool. I wish I'd have been there that night, for so many see those post-rock kids' confusion and/or enlightenment in the face of Jack's tantric string fire, to shake his hand or give him a hug. I think about these things, and I think about the true beauty of the man. It's so weird to think that the music comes second.

But he was a guitar player too -- some would say the best raga-picker today -- a blues scholar and a real fan. His transcendent style derived as much from Skip James and other pre WW2 blues men as ragtime, country, John Fahey, Robbie Basho, The Grateful Dead and John Martyn, just to name a few. And, of course, his friends. Key albums? Hard to say. Red Horse/White Mule and Opium Musick (both on Eclipse originally) get the ball rolling with raw slide work, fluid fingerpicking and epic open-tuned raga mind wash. Both can be found on VHF's Two Originals of Jack Rose CD. The definitive Kensington Blues (VHF) would come a few years later, and a two more years later the concurrently released self titled and Dr. Ragtime and His Pals, both available as a 2CD from Tequila Sunrise. There's more too, like his long gone echoplexed 7" single, Untitled, which can at least be downloaded if nothing else. And don't get me started on Pelt! His 10th solo album, Luck In The Valley, is due in early 2010 on Thrill Jockey.

And now a little music:

The last time I spoke to Jack was at Terrastock 7 in Louisville, KY, but it's the time before that that really sticks with me. I flew up to St. Louis to visit my friend Travis, and while there catch a Jack Rose/D. Charles Speer/Raglani gig. It'd been a couple years, but he remembered me. I told him how much I was looking forward to seeing his buddy D. Charles, who is super sweet cat too, and I'm sure feeling his own heartbreak right about now. The show was in an art space called Open Lot, which is basically an old converted firehouse from what I could tell. All three acts killed that night -- D. Charles with his drunken country roots psych, Raglani with his minimal electronic storms, Jack with his mind-bending ragas and ragtime jigs. I think I bought a vinyl copy of Kensington Blues and the aforementioned 2CD on Tequila Sunrise.

At one point I remember walking up the stairs to watch Raglani's performance, and looking back and seeing Jack just sitting there on a big brown couch in the main room. "Aren't you comin'?" I asked. "Nah, I can hear it just fine down here. I'm just gonna enjoy this old couch and relax a little while," and he outstretched both arms on either side and gave us one of those big wide Jack smiles. Something tells me he listened closely and probably liked what he heard. Jack always had eclectic tastes, and he meant every word. He will be missed. Check out some of his music if you never have. It comes highly recommended. Here's to that big brown couch. Rest easy, Jack.

Deepest condolences to Jack's wife, family and friends.

Some more remembrances: (a collection of thoughts by Phil McMullin and other members of the Terrastock Nation, including Bill Kellum, owner of VHF Records) (Windy Webber of Windy & Carl)

Addendum: (excellent in depth/recent interview with Jack by


Travis said...

Thank you for sharing these warm, heartfelt memories of Jack. He will be missed. I'm just glad he left us such wonderful music with which to remember him.

captain groovy said...

what a freakin bummer dude.I thought of you instantly when i heard this.i posted video & news about this on facebook & got zero response except from my friends super cool 14 year old daughter.Guarantee some old classic rocker dude dies & there'll be talk of what a tragedy it is.The world is a worse place for Jack not being in it.I'm glad i'm not the only one in Dallas who understands

Lee said...

Know what you mean! Not enough people down here care or know about good psych blues folk. Maybe it's the stigma of being so anti-country music, another knee-jerk cultural reaction to living in Texas I do not agree with at all. No bad genres, people, just bad music. Jack was an illuminating soul when it comes to this sacred truth.

Mats said...

Thanks for sharing, Lee. I have somehow not really been able to grasp this and write something about it yet. I might as well just listen to "Ayahuasca" or "Red Horse/White Mule" instead and enjoy his wonderful music...

Laurie said...

Jack was a kind man. I knew him briefly when he was moonlighting as a baker in Blacksburg, VA in the mid-ninties. I ended up getting sick and missing a couple semesters and he wrote me a few letters to keep me up on the goings on about town. It was unexpected, but so real and genuine and caring. We were just friends but it was a communication from the heart. I wish I'd still known him so I could have helped to help celebrate his musical success. So glad to hear of it. God bless him, and his family.

I just found your blog through google- I trust you don't mind a tribute.